June 8, 2020

In Toronto and elsewhere, the lack of distracting activities like movies, concerts and sports is contributing to profound events. The real world is changing so fast, as people get focused and rise up. Meanwhile, in the cultural domain, time and place, and, openings and closings, don’t really matter. Many cultural products have become digital and are therefore on demand, untethered by time constraints. Time itself can be compressed to almost nothing or drawn out and made to last.

2020 Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival

Ho Tam at Paul Petro Contemporary Art

For example, the 2020 Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival, which normally takes place throughout the city in the month of May, was largely postponed, except for the bits and pieces of it which can still be seen, either online or, in a few instances, as outdoor public installations (in the real world.)

In a 25-year-old video by Ho Tam, which was exhibited at Paul Petro Contemporary Art as part of CONTACT, Godzilla is the opening act. The video, titled “The Yellow Pages”, has a lightness and playfulness that belies its serious content.

The Yellow Pages by Ho Tam

Silent and less than eight minutes long, Ho Tam’s video is an illustrated alphabet of racial cliches and assumptions. A is for “Asian Crimes,” B is “Butterfly”, C is “Chinatown,” D is “Dogmeat.” The artist has a very graceful way of layering one cliche upon another. E is for “Enter the Dragon” but instead of Bruce Lee we are treated to a clip of a painfully decrepit Mao Zedong meeting (possibly) Soviet dignitaries sometime in the early 70s. Everything feels so weighted with meaning. Maybe that’s why the piece is so delightful to watch. The cliches are off, and, therefore unsettling.

Uniformly bathed in sepia, the images diverge wildly: “Head Tax” is a ghastly heap of skulls documenting the reign of the Khmer Rouge, “Ninja Turtles” refers to a group of elderly Tai Chi practitioners, and the “Asian Crimes” section — the first letter — introduces the endearing yet ruinous antics of Godzilla. I’m not sure if Godzilla is punishing “Asian Crimes,” or maybe Godzilla himself is the crime, unleashed upon the world.

According to social theorists, since the first Japanese movie featuring Godzilla debuted in 1954, the giant lizard has effectively tapped into our fears and preoccupations. He embodies nuclear weapons, catastrophic bio-hazard, global environmental degradation, cross-species virus transmission and whatever comes next. That’s why we love him!

Toho Studio

Dawit L. Petros at Power Plant

On the CONTACT Festival website I was advised there was a public installation currently On View at The Power Plant. I rode my bike down to Queen’s Quay to have a look. The Power Plant was closed. But, I did get to see the giant, outdoor banner, art piece by Dawit L. Petros, erected as part of the 2020 CONTACT festival.

Installation view of Artwork by Dawit L. Petros titled “Untitled (Overlapping and intertwined territories that fall from view III)

Reading the accompanying text makes clear that this is a scene of current and historic misery. A man is holding a large photograph, which conceals his identity. The man is named Moktar. He is described as one of the millions of migrants who have embarked on dangerous journeys all over the world. Coming from Eritrea, Moktar traveled through Sudan, Egypt, Libya, and across the Mediterranean to a new life in Italy. He was photographed at an unspecified location.

Detail of installation view of Artwork by Dawit L. Petros titled “Untitled (Overlapping and intertwined territories that fall from view III)

The photograph Moktar is holding is “a reproduction of an etching by Georgina Smith, an eyewitness to the sinking of the transatlantic steamship SS Utopia. In a tragic accident on March 17, 1891, the SS Utopia—used frequently to transport European immigrants to the United States—collided with a battleship off the shores of Gibraltar and sank quickly, killing over 500 passengers, many of whom were poor southern Italians seeking better lives across the Atlantic Ocean.”

Detail view of installation by Dawit L. Petros titled “Untitled (Overlapping and intertwined territories that fall from view III)

Looking closely at the photograph of the etching, the detailed image of the terrible event can be seen.

The migrant experience, quickly forgotten by subsequent generations, is perilous today, as it was in 1891.

View of Lake Ontario from southern facade of the Power Plant.

The view southward from the art installation appears serene. Queen’s Quay, normally thronged with tourists during the summer months, is deserted. The lake is very calm in the sudden summer heat.

Museum of Contemporary Art

MOCA closed on March 14th, right in the middle of a exciting moment in the Museum’s brief history. Exhibits by four celebrated artists —Shelagh Keeley, Megan Rooney, Carlos Bunga and Sarah Sze — at various points in their respective career — made the building feel suddenly packed with bold endeavour. What a letdown when the pandemic wrapped things up way too soon!

Since that time, MOCA, like so many other cultural institutions, has tried to figure out ways to retain their audience and foster engagement.

Toronto’s Museum of Contemporary Art is located at 158 Sterling Road
Ben Rahn/A-Frame/A-Frame

During the lockdown, each week the Museum presents a new time-based work, frequently in collaboration with another local cultural organization. This week you can watch an experimental play, which is particularly relevant to the Black Lives Matter events of the moment. It is titled On Trial: The Long Doorway, by Deanna Bowen, and it can be seen on MOCA’s Shift Key platform.

Meanwhile, the real exhibits, which were scheduled to run to mid-May, languish in the silent halls of the Museum. Hesitancy and confusion about when shows start and end constitute more pandemic fallout. (So many changes in the world right now: I really like the fact that Grind Cultural is taking a hit during this global episode! Slow the hell down!)

Guided virtual tours, by MOCA curators, are provided in connection to some of the works inside, including a tour of An Embodied Haptic Space which is the title of Shelagh Keeley’s exhibition of site specific wall drawings and photographs. Tarp paintings from 1986 and a fascinating video are also in the exhibition.

Installation view of drawings at MOCA by Shelagh Keeley

Watch a guided tour of the exhibition here.

Shelagh Keeley, “Fragments of the Factory / Unfinished Traces of Labour”, 2020. MOCA Toronto. Photo by Toni Hafkenscheid

The washed out greens and purples in the drawings multiply the feeling of decay and putrescence seen in the photographs, themselves part of the visual wall, which the artist took when the site at 158 Sterling Road was still unrenovated.

The sense of intuitive confidence, so evident in the beautiful drawings, was also at work in the video part of the exhibition. The text accompanying the video, titled The Colonial Garden, explains that this place, now largely shuttered and in disrepair, was part of the 1940 Portuguese World Exhibition, where it functioned as a kind of human zoo, exhibiting native people from Portugal’s colonies. Shelagh Keeley’s video, creates a growing sense of the sinister, as it takes the viewer on a slow tour of the shambolic garden.

Still from The Colonial Garden by Shelagh Keeley

November 21, 2014


The paintings by Carol Wainio on display at Paul Petro Contemporary Art quickly drew me into their dense, tangled layers of imagery.
These paintings are so visually deep.  A dark, gnarly, ancient-looking forest landscape is the middle ground.  Far in the distance are winsome pastel vistas.  Strangely patterned birds, maybe pheasants, charge about the forest floor, heading for clearings and stone pathways through the old growth.  Numerous disparate objects, creatures, little people, symbols of all types and sometimes words are found embedded in the welter of images.  In the foreground, bold, simple line drawings and fat polka dots create a closer surface, as though we are looking through glass into another world.
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Les Cailloux Blancs

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Detail from Les Cailloux Blancs

Accompanying the show, titled Dropped from the Calendar, is a long text written by Carol Wainio in which she suggests the nature of modern life has resulted in certain losses such as the creative luxury of boredom, certain notions of enchantment, reliable shared memories and rhythms of the seasons.  The phrase “dropped from the calendar” refers to the pages of traditional holiday calendars which were once reserved for personal recollections.  Are these blank pages no longer necessary since recollections are manufactured and provided for us now?

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Lost

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One Evening

Frequently the outline of a transparent fawn, like the familiar twinkly Christmas lawn ornament, turns up in the paintings.  Could be that Carol Wainio is connoting our feeble and sentimental link with the natural world through this image.

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Renderings of children, definitely from another period in history, also recur in the paintings.  For some reason I thought of the Hummel figurines my mother-in-law in New Jersey used to collect.  They seemed beyond kitsch — the height of manufactured nostalgia –  to me.  Maybe that is what Carol Wainio is getting at, i.e. that our private nostalgia has been hijacked and sold back to us.

It is a pleasure to look at these paintings which are both visually and metaphorically deep and to spend some time speculating on the connections and references within them.

In the accompanying text Carol Wainio quotes Walter Benjamin’s talking about fairy tales in the modern age: “This is how today it is becoming unraveled at all its ends after being woven thousands of years ago in the ambience of the oldest forms of craftsmanship.’   I was thinking about these ancient tales and how they helped people in perilous times when I came across an announcement about the release of some long lost Grimms’ Fairy Tales.  One of the stories is summarized below:

“Once there was a father who was slaughtering a pig in the yard,  His two sons saw him do this, and they decided to play slaughtering. One of the brothers became the pig, and the other became the slaughterer and he slit the throat of the younger brother. In the meantime, the mother was watching upstairs from a window and saw what had happened. She ran downstairs and took the knife out of the boys throat and, out of fury, she stabbed the older boy in the heart. And then she realized the baby was upstairs, and in the meantime the baby had died and drowned in the tub. She was so remorseful she committed suicide. The father, he was so dismayed that after two years he wasted away.”
Farm Boy
Hummel Figurine “Farm Boy”

September 25, 2014

There is so much frenetic construction activity along Queen’s Quay on the way to The Power Plant. What’s going on?  It appears RBC’s marketing team are working overtime to hint about what might be in store for us when all this commotion is done and the dust settles.

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The Power Plant

The fall season at The Power Plant includes impressive work by three artists.


Shelagh Keeley

I admired Shelagh Keeley’s drawings back on September 6th at Paul Petro Contemporary Art. Here, covering The Power Plant’s vast clerestory wall, is an example of the artist’s site specific work, scaled up.

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The piece is called “Notes on Obsolescence.” It  has the spontaneity of jottings and doodles pinned up on a giant push-pin board but, amazingly, the numerous drawings, photographs and writings coalesce to create one monumental work of art.

Threads, strings and strands – sometimes drawn directly on the wall – drop, dip and fall in concert with layers of more drawings and many photos (of different textures, hues, vintage and size) depicting spindles, shuttles, punchcards, servers, circuit boards, weavings, intersecting woofs and warps, dye mechanisms, the factory floor, gadgets and widgets, quotes from Marshall McLuhan, cascading reams of paper from a long gone dot matrix printer and so on and on. The work follows the relentless march of technological innovation by looking backward at the abandoned remains.

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This piece is endlessly fascinating to look at. There is so much rich content and beautiful details.  It was annoying that I could not see the loftiest sections until I realized I could simply walk upstairs.

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Julia Dault

Seeing this sculpture by Julia Dault got me thinking: What if I owned an austere modernist rectangular house? What if I placed this sizzling pink and blue bundle in one of its large imposing rooms?

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How cool and sophisticated would I be?  Would I have to hire a staff just to dust my possessions?

Maybe its the playful colors and unconventional materials but I definitely got a sense of joy seeing this work. The high gloss sculpture appear on the verge of flying apart and the paintings have a late-night, rock ‘n roll high spiritedness to them.

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Julia Dault’s exploration into mark making is deep. At the same time it has a certain infectious giddyness most evident in the sprawling lexicon of marks, encased in a grid, which she created for one wall of the gallery.

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Pedro Cabrita Reis

This sculpture is brawny and muscular. I-beams appear to have been ripped from walls and scattered about recklessly as if in mid demolition. (There is no way this piece was not made by a guy.)

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It has a dangerous feel too: through the precariously balanced beams, sharp metal edges, vulnerable neon tubing and tangles of explosed wiring. Wandering through this huge installation reminded me of my walk through the construction site to get here. I really enjoyed the bold, massiveness of it as the lake sparkled outside in the morning light; and there seemed to be emotional content too but it was not out of control, instead it was more like thinking about havoc in a repressed, distant and thoughtful way.

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That same contemplative feel is evident upstairs in a gallery containing fourteen paintings by Pedro Cabrita Reis. These formalist paintings are very somber: Raw canvas, reddish stain, heavy slablike layer of dark brown nearly black paint encased in elaborate plexi and welded metal frames.

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(The lights in the gallery were so bright and the frame surface so reflective I was unable to capture the actual look of the paintings.  You’ll just have to see for yourself.)

September 6, 2014

The purpose of this blog is to write about Art in Toronto.  What’s going on in art in Toronto right now?  I intend to start this project by taking a walk every Saturday, visiting some galleries, taking a few pictures and recording my impressions and thoughts here.  I am not sure where this project will take me. Galleries might be just the beginning.  I admit I don’t know where the art scene is at this time.  One thing I definitely want to do is to get some dialogue going and invite others to write about art in Toronto.

On Saturday, September 6th, I walked down Ossington Street.  It felt like the last breath of a short, cool summer.   The street was lively and colorful.

ossington Streetossingstreet

First stop: O’Born Contemporary

Callum Schuster’s exhibition is all about limits: He uses only the sphere and only in black and white.  Any evidence of the human hand has been expunged from the work.  Numerous spheres were created in various media.  Each sphere is divided in half: one half a dense matte black and the other half dazzling matte white.  The sphere’s were twirling, white sphere’s becoming black spheres, they were lined up, tilted, embedded in frosted plexiglass, some larger, some smaller, all extremely controlled, modulated, calm.  The artist made animated films and sculptures of black and white spheres spinning in the same steady, controlled way.  The work had the feel of an architectural or maybe mathematical model; pristine, artfully constructed, and indeed, the artist has stated he is interested in measurement.  It is dry, cool, extremely clean – bordering on obsessively clean – work.

The tall, elegant co-director of O’Born Contemporary, Rachel Anne Farquharson, was very gracious.  I scanned the artist’s statement and asked her what is the meaning of “praxis.”  (The context was the “praxis of painting.”)  She told me it means “practice” in Greek.  I didn’t know what to make of that and she looked a little sheepish.  She mentioned the artist’s cleanliness, obsessiveness, tidyness etc. and has also been quite taken with his intelligence. 20140906_131835More dots

The overwhelming sense of this show is how removed the work is from the anything that’s going on just outside the white gallery cube.  I can relate to that specific focus and can understand that someone might not want to even read a newspaper in the ghastly summer of 2014.

Next up: Angell Gallery

I really like Jamie Angell.  He is truly an art enthusiast, and noone can work a room like him.

Jamie’s main artist, i.e. the one that keeps the gallery financially solvent, is Kim Dorland but Jamie takes risks on all kinds of other artists and always has something unusual to look at.  The current show in the large gallery is by Daniel Hutchinson.  What do you know?  This artist is all about limits and is extremely intelligent!  This is what the lovely young gallery assistant told me.  I’m detecting a trend.

Daniel uses only black, although he underpaints in color. The color sometimes bleeds through but the viewer is not quite sure if its a hallucination or some kind of afterglow that occurs from staring at the profoundly black paintings.  From my perspective they were hard to look at.  The black was so shiny and sticky looking, like old liquorice, tar or pumped up rubber industrial stair treads.  The artist added glare by strategically placed neon tubes next to the paintings

.jamie angell

Daniel is interested in cosmology, dark matter and various themes from contemporary physics.  In the statement heavy hitters like Malevich and Ad Reinhardt are referenced.  Clearly Daniel Hutchinson is a serious and ambitious painter.

Incidently, this morning on CBC a scientist was talking about the Higgs boson particle.  I knew it was a big deal to find this particle but I was not really sure why.  According to the scientist this is a happy story because it means we are not surrounded by a lonely vacuum as was previously surmised.  We are in a soup of matter and the discovery of the Higgs boson proves it.  This particle is the building block of everything, hence, it is called the “God Particle.”  The details are a little hazy for me but as Daniel Hutchinson seems to suggest aspects of physics such as the Higgs boson are mysterious and compelling and provide rich inspiration for visual art.

Onward… to the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA)

MOCCA

What would we do without MOCCA?  Who would provide a venue for STAG Library’s mugwort recipes and eloquent documentation on “relanding.”  (“Relanding” is the word used by Gina Badger and cheyanne turions, the two individuals who make up STAG Library,  to describe an attempt to reconcile the violent past of original European settlement in North America.)

Also in the main space was an exhibition called TBD which is focused on reimaging the Museum.  It consisted of numerous ideas for exploding the conventional museum and dispersing the contents in inventive, original ways.  The ideas are so amusing: Think of the possibility of a temporary museum in the construction hoardings around new buildings.

mocca big show

There was lots of standing around reading at MOCCA, which doesn’t really work for me.  A certain amount of reading is okay but maybe this exhibition should have been a magazine or a book?

The prints of Museum floorplans were stylish objects and they would definitely look good in a corporate boardroom.

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Sometimes MOCCA’s installations are so subtle that I just miss them totally.  Apparently there is a sound installation by Mark Soo currently on display.  It’s called “House is a Feeling” but  I couldn’t really get a beat on it even though I was wandering in the main gallery for 10 minutes or so.  How I missed it I do not know.  Maybe that installation had something to do with the intermittent drilling that finally drove me out of there and into the adjoining exhibition.

The highlight of the MOCCA visit for me was the 2013 film entitled “Provenance” by Amie Siegel.

The piece explores the fetishism around certain mid-century modernist furniture.  In this case, chairs and other items designed by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret are documented being packed up, travelling across the ocean, expertly marketed and sold for hefty prices, eventually to take their places in a succession of glamorous contemporary settings.  These objects turn up in all the right places and they seem to become more beautiful and desirable as the film progresses, invariably captured in slow tracking shots in a muted palette as the context screams Understatement! Taste! Money!

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The back story on these chairs is so interesting.  Chandigarh is a city in India designed by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jenneret in the middle of the last century.  This furniture is apparently the everyday office chairs and desks that the inhabitants of this dreamed up city would use.

And finally: Paul Petro Contemporary Art

The downstairs gallery features an exhibition by Morley Shayuk.  I would like to get to know this artist and ask him to accompany me to Home Depot or Rona sometime.  He seems to really know his way around hardware and building materials.  He creates massive wall reliefs incorporating all the latest polymer variants.  They have a kind of off-hand grandeur and would have looked great in the (now bulldozed) former Winnipeg International Airport.

Paul Petro

Upstairs was an arresting show by Shelagh Keeley.  What I really liked about her paintings (on mylar) was their uncomplicated sophistication.  No handout required: It is all there in the paintings.  They are lush, meditative, succinct and that works for me.

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Clotilda was texting me to meet her at Starbucks.  I concluded my first Toronto art blog walk with a good feeling of calm and optimism.